What is anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.”
Everyone suffers from anxiety at some point; whether it’s something like a driving test or your first treatment, you’ll recognise the familiar butterflies in your stomach, frequent visits to the bathroom and restlessness prior to the event. Hopefully, once we are in the moment, the nerves reduce.
If these nerves develop into a perpetual state, anxiety can become a problem. This anxiety can evolve in many forms including OCD, panic attacks, PTSD, phobia, social anxiety and many more. Daily life becomes affected, and our moods, hormones, digestion and sleep may all experience negative consequences.
These daily negative associations can in turn feed our anxiety, making it difficult to listen to our rational voice. Life becomes the big ‘what if’ scenario. ‘What if’ is always based on the worst possible scenario: we generally aren’t able to control these outcomes, whether it be the traffic on the M25 or the weather for a special occasion.
As we now know, the gut and the brain talk to each other and feed into one another. Our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to our emotions, and our brain is aware if our gut is under strain. A recent study conducted with mice showed that the absence of gut bacteria can affect areas of the brain associated with anxiety.
Nutrition and lifestyle play a big part in our anxiety levels and contribute to the balance, or imbalance of cortisol levels.
In order to reduce your anxiety, look for triggers and learn to avoid the stimulants that we often turn to when under stress. Whilst theses stimulants (chocolate, alcohol, cigarettes etc) act as comfort at the time of need, they are usually only a temporary relaxant and most times, increase our anxiety.
- Caffeine/caffeine on an empty stomach
- Diet fizzy drinks
- Refined carbohydrates/processed foods
- Reduce gluten intake
- Trans fats (biscuits, cakes, sweet treats)
- Msg (cheese, grapes)
What can we do?
- Eat three balanced meals a day
- Maintain balanced blood sugar
- Establish a healthy sleep routine
- Exercise regularly, preferably in fresh air
- Increase intake of turmeric and black pepper in cooking or smoothies
- Practice mindfulness and meditation
- Listen to calming music
- Relax in epsom salt baths
- Consume foods rich in magnesium (fruits, peas, salmon)
- Consume foods high in tryptophan (oats, red meat, eggs)
- Drink plenty of water
How can we help ourselves?
To ensure your diet isn’t increasing your anxiety levels, stick to foods that are rich in magnesium and contain the amino acid tryptophan. Antioxidants full of vitamin C & E and foods containing B vitamins help calm and maintain our nervous systems.
Beneficial for brain health, oily fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and walnuts, chia and flax seeds are excellent sources. A study published in 2011 on healthy young students showed a reduction in anxiety levels from those taking omega-3 supplements.
Magnesium is a cofactor in over thousands of processes in the body, both cellular and at protein structure levels. It’s fundamental for energy production and is a muscle relaxant, aids bone creation and cardiovascular health. Sadly, many people are deficient and as a result suffer from a variety of minor irritants to major conditions. For anxiety, one of magnesium’s benefits serves as a relaxant to aid sleep. (Recommended daily amount of Magnesium is 375mg.)
So what should we eat?
Magnesium-rich foods including pumpkin seeds, Swiss chard, sesame seeds, almonds, spinach, quinoa, black and navy beans, dark chocolate, avocado, yoghurt/kefir and bananas.
Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters aiding our well-being and sleep respectively. By eating foods rich in tryptophan such as cheese, eggs, poultry, meat, dark chocolate, buckwheat and most proteins, we can help to increase the benefits from these neurotransmitters.
As well as diet, essential oils can be a calming influence, perfect for adding to a bath or a simple foot soak. Ensure all oils are added to a carrier oil as they are extremely powerful, but if in doubt speak to your herbalist/therapist.
Essential oils to calm include:
- Ylang ylang
If you aren’t taking medication, then adaptogenic herbs may help. Adaptogens help to restore homeostasis to the body with their regenerative properties. Ashwagandha, rhodiola, and ginkgo biloba have all been proven to produce positive benefits.
If you are undergoing treatment for cancer, we recommend that you check with a medical professional or qualified practitioner before trying new dietary approaches or supplements.
- Oxford Dictionary